Archive for March 2010

How to Brainstorm – Suspending Judgment

31 March 2010

Every business eventually gets stale. If new ideas, processes, products are not introduced then it invites competitors who are more creative to steal your customers.

acai apple granolaAt one time cereal shelves were filled with only a handful of products: corn flakes, puffed wheat, Grape-Nuts Flakes, Cheerios, and a very few others. In late 1949 and the early 1950s sugar cereals began to proliferate: Sugar Crisp, Sugar Corn Pops, Sugar Krinkles, Sugar Frosted Flakes, Sugar Smacks, Trix, and Rice Honeys, for example.

In the next few decades hundreds of different cereals came out and instead of just dominating shelves, cereals dominated entire aisles. In 1989 Kellogg’s came out with Heartwise and many other manufacturers began pushing whole grain and “healthy” cereals.

Today one can find practically every fruit, nut or spice in the product mix: marshmallows, bananas, dates, raisins, walnuts, apples, cinnamon, peanut butter, cranberries, cocoa, blueberry muffins, caramel, pecans, granola, and more than a thousand others.

Brainstorming is not needed to come out with a new product mix, one can simply combine a few fruit or nut names and viola! one has a new cereal product: Acai Apple Granola, agave strawberry cocoa, Apple Caramel Pecan Crunch, banana cream caramel waffle flakes, and so on.

Where brainstorming might help, for example, is coming up with new packaging to help one product stand out from the crowd, let’s say a star-shaped box for oatmeal galaxy flakes (which are also star-shaped).

Or perhaps boxes that when fit together make a puzzle.

The problem with brainstorming sessions is that unless the session moderator is able to stifle judgment, participants may find it difficult to come up with ideas or suggestions to solve a problem.

I have been in many brainstorming sessions and I find that a judgment-penalty-jar helps to keep the negative comments or judgments down to a minimum.

This is how it works: all participants are handed approx 40 poker chips with each chip standing for 25 cents (or any other amount set by the moderator). A negative opinion jar is set in the middle of a table – and everyone is informed that the jar starts off with $100 (or whatever amount the company want to ante with). Any time a participant utters a negative statement, he must put a chip in the jar.

The negative comments can be put on a whiteboard so everyone knows what not to say during the session: here are some samples: that won’t work, we can’t do that, that’s a stupid idea, I don’t like that, why would we do that? that’s silly, that’s crazy, our organization is not built for that, we’ve never done that before, we’ve tried that before, we’re not set up for that, it’s too expensive, it’s too cheap, too hard, too easy, we can’t make money from that, market research shows …, do you have any evidence that …, but our focus group showed different results, we’ve always done it the other way, etc.

The moderator should put all participant names on a separate board and put a checkmark every time someone has an idea, no matter how crazy. Every ten minutes, the idea generation process is suspended and everyone votes for who had the craziest, most absurd suggestion during that ten minute period. That name is then put into the jar. At the end of the brainstorming session the person with the highest number of checkmarks (overall ideas) and the person who had the highest number of stupid ideas share equally in whatever is in the judgment jar.

Those participants who lack chips because they had negative comments must come up with money for the missing chips. This ensures that nay-sayers will eventually not show up at sessions.

In this manner, I have been at sessions where 10 people generated more than a 500 ideas and more in less than an hour.

What to do with all those ideas generated will be for a future post.

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Photoshop’s Content Aware

30 March 2010

If you deal with images you no doubt by now are aware of Photoshop’s Content Aware (video), a tool to help remove unwanted elements in an image.

The purpose of this blog is to help suggest possible opportunities for businesses and this particular advance in photography will undoubtedly help many aspiring but not overly talented photographers break into the business.

Taking unique, interesting, and unblemished photos is not that easy. Retouching photos, while ostensibly frowned upon in the industry, is nonetheless widespread. We recall the photo-shopped image by the media arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in July of 2008 when they added a fourth missile to make their weaponry exhibition more impressive (read NY Times story):

iran missile photoshop

This could all have been avoided with the new tool which would have made the addition undetectable.

Indeed there are no shortage of web articles regarding photoshop fails:

photoshop fail

Fortunately Getty Images makes it easy to submit your photos for sale, check out their submission site.

SMS Sweepstakes Scam

29 March 2010

SMSnia is a UK website (run by a Czech company) that awards various prizes to lucky readers who send text messages to specific phone numbers. For example, a recent sweepstakes offered each 800th SMS to win a Combo Fridge Freezer by Baumatic. Here is a screenshot of the alleged fridge-freezer:

baumatic washer dryer combo

I know what you are thinking, “Damn if that fridge-freezer doesn’t look like a washer-dryer!” Well, that’s what it is, a combo washer-dryer from Baumatic. One wonders what refrigerators must look like in the Czech Republic that no one noticed the mistake. Actually, since it is a lottery scam (the SMS messages cost the sender money), it really doesn’t matter what the prize is.

Sweepstakes like this one are illegal under U.S. federal law for American citizens to play because it is no different than a lottery.

If it isn’t conducted by a government or government-authorized organization (and by a government I mean a real government, not Nigeria), it cannot be a legitimate lottery.

Now if one wants to combine SMS into a legitimate business, here’s just one great idea: a pill bottle cap that sends an SMS to you or a designated relative if you forget to take your medicine at a prescribed time:

textually.org, Pill Bottle Cap Sends SMS: Take your Meds

If the bottle isn’t opened at the appointed time, the cap and night light start blinking to remind the owner to take the medication. If that doesn’t serve as enough of a hint, they start playing jingles as well. If the bottle stays unopened, the night light will send a message to Vitality’s system, which can then place an automated phone call or send a text message with a reminder.

Even Vandals can Have Brands

26 March 2010

If Jesse James (the train-robber, not the bum who blind-sided Sandra Bullock) were alive today, I have no doubt he would be pushing his own line of clothes and have endorsement deals with Nike (Rob a train? Just do it!) and Adidas (first daylight bankrobbery in peace time – Celebrate Originality).

Today if you’re the best at any endeavor, you can be rich and famous.

graffito artist slick - Adidas Slick Artillery Mid sneakerTake graffito artist Slick who heads up his own successful brand Dissizit. Adidas has put Slick on their truly awesome Artillery Torsion retro Basketball shoe (note the Slick Artillery logo on the tongue).

Check out Adidas’ ad video here.

To some, graffiti is an art form; to others it is vandalism. Know how you can tell? If it’s done without the property owner’s permission, it is vandalism – I don’t care how beautiful it may be.

But suppose you’re not Nike or Adidis but a small business that could profit from a tie-in with graffiti? Step in Man One Design who will create graffiti art for your brand, targeting the youth market that just doesn’t respond to traditional advertising.

Marketing the Cure for Cancer

25 March 2010

First, let me give you the beginning of the story (with a Hat Tip to Skirmisher):

Live Longer Now Blog, Nanobots Kill Cancer Cells

The image below shows an exciting development in cancer cure: nanobots successfully attacking a cancer cell, disabling it. The “attack nanobots” do the work by safely delivering what is called small-interfering RNA (siRNA) to deactivate the protein, thereby starving the tumor cell to death.

nanobots attacking cancer cells

A Caltech-led team of researchers published the first proof (in the March 21 online edition of the journal Nature) that a targeted nanoparticle injected into a patient’s bloodstream can turn off a cancer gene. This also bodes well for therapeutics other than those that attack cancer at the genetic level [see Caltech Press release].

Now comes the end of the story: just because one finds the cure for cancer does not mean anyone can get it soon.

So You want to be your Own Boss

In today’s world, even more than in the past, business success has nothing to do with your product or million dollar idea. You can have the cure for cancer, but unless you know people in the FDA and pharmaceutical business you will get nowhere. Believe it. On the other hand, you can sell frozen dog-turd and make millions if you have contacts, a customer base for any other product, thousands of retail outlets that already sell something, distribution channels, distributors, wholesalers, manufacturers reps, and significant web traffic (and it doesn’t matter what you’re already selling).

So will nanobots be considered a drug, a procedure, or a tiny medical doctor all on its own? Because the FDA requires testing in the hundreds of millions of dollars before they will approve any drug or medical procedure it will take years for anyone to actually get a hold of the tiny devils.

But people are dying of cancer now – so here’s a business idea: buy the bots from Caltech and take them to Mexico where rich Americans can go to get treatment as many already go for prostate cancer treatment, cosmetic surgery, weight loss surgery, dental treatments and many others. About 40,000 Americans travel to Mexico for medical treatment each year.

You set up a website, provide air transportation, taxi (or limo), medical consultations, hotel arrangements, and even provide for post treatment stays at resort areas. The commissions from the various service providers can quickly add up to a significant amount of money. All this courtesy of the stupidity of the bureaucrats at the FDA.

People with zero medical experience have already set up clinics throughout Mexico.

Related: See video of Mexico’s Distinction In Medical Technology Development.